I like mobile apps.

I once published lessons from the growth of YouVersion; a Bible app with 200 million downloads where I highlighted 5 things that made YouVersion one of the most successful bible app in history. While the lessons of that post are insightful, it might not resonate with someone who is just building his app portfolio on low budget.

This is what this new post is about. I want to highlight my key thoughts on building and scaling a mobile app on budget.

For early stage startups, the approach I recommend is to be spend as little as possible on marketing, however, it is important to note that your budget determines how fast you can grow your app.

1. It all starts with building the right app.

Before you think of getting huge downloads for your app, are you sure that your app is world-class and solving a real problem to the users? Here is a practical guide you can start with on how to validate your app idea.

2. Lessons from BuxMe on Product development (and how to get early traction)

As a way of introduction, BuxMe is a payment app owned by Wema Bank. As at the time of publishing this post, their download numbers is approximately 5,000 (app is still in Beta), so I am only “picking” on it because I know a little back story shared here and here as well as my personal exchanges with Phillip Ese, the Head of Innovation lab at Wema Bank.

Here are my 3 golden lessons from BuxMe.

a. Have a unique selling point(s) that address your market’s biggest pain

I have advised startups about having a differentiation strategy. A good case study for me is PushCV who, instead of competing directly with other established job websites, positioned itself as the job-matching service that will supply qualified applicants to job vacancies. In the case of BuxMe, the idea of inter-bank transfer is not new, however, the biggest pain is the N100 bank transfer charges.

BuxMe’s USP is simple: “stop paying N100 for sending money”.


A look behind the hood also reveals the major pain points the app was designed to solve:

  • The app clearly solves the problem of sending and receiving money without the need to create a wallet system (which is still typical of most payment apps and one of the nagging problems of many users)

  • Unlike most of the other banks’ payment apps (except PayWithCapture of Access Bank), BuxMe is Bank-agnostic. This means that the app can work with the debit card of any bank and does not require you to open an account with WEMA Bank.

  • It is branded as a social payment app via press releases.

b. Get feedbacks early, especially from Influential users

One of the biggest challenges with startup today is that they spend a lot of time on the product, website or app but do little to prepare the market for their launch.

You avert launching to cricket by targeting your most active users even before the product is launched.

In the case of BuxMe, Philip reached out to a section of users (who are expected to be early adopters) to give the app a test. The app was not even available yet, but the invitation worked, raking in over 74 comments including recommendations, feature additions and bug fixes.

c. Build virality into your app.

Dropbox, AirBnB, Uber etc are global examples of apps that grew at scale by leveraging growth hacks in their early days. BuxMe also packed in some of these viral features. I attempted to re-engineer some of the features of the BuxMe app in order to explain how the app was designed for viral customer acquisition.

Here are some that I found:

  • Anyone who has not downloaded the app needs to verify themselves for each transaction. This “little friction” is a motivation for new users to download the app.

  • The ability to import your email contacts and even request someone to send you money by email is a viral way to get existing users spread the app to new users.

  • One of the experiments they used to “seed” early growth was a referral marketing programme.

3. App Indexing and Streaming.

App indexing is an innovative way for Google to display your app content right alongside search results on mobile devices. This means that when someone performs a search on Google, it will show results from specific page of an installed app.


To enjoy this additional exposure, your app must support deep links by adding intent filters for relevant activities in the app. (A deep link is any link that directs a user past the home page to a specific piece of content). According to experts, app indexing can boost app traffic, increase conversions by taking a user straight to a specific app page with a CTA, increase loyalty of existing customers and aid in the acquisition of new users.

With app streaming, Google allows users who have not installed your app on their phone to be able to open the app virtually on Google’s cloud platform and interact with this “virtual app” as if it were already installed on their smartphone, accessing app content without installation.


4. Invest in Getting 5 Star App Reviews.

Be deliberate about getting reviews for your app because reviews are part of the algorithm used to calculate an app’s position in top charts and search results. Most likely, apps with four and five stars are positioned higher than competing apps using the same targeted keywords.

To improve your reviews, you can add a “Rate our app” plugin which is great way to make it simple for people to leave a comment about your app. You can also incenticize users to review your app by “compensating them”. You need to build a system to ensure that your highly engaged (and happy) users are prompted to leave a review for your app.

5. App Store Optimization (ASO) – How a Nigerian app developer gets over 300k downloads on Google Playstore for FREE.

ASO is the process of increasing the visibility of your app in the app store so that people can find your app easily. It is like search engine optimization.

If you follow the recommendations in this app listing guideline, you can improve organic downloads for your app in selected app categories and for specific keyword searches.

For example, this Nigerian app publisher recorded over 300,000 downloads per app on Playstore with zero marketing budget. By optimizing keyword, title tags and app description (key components of ASO) one of his apps, a biology textbook reached 100,000 downloads organically in 4 months.

6. Your app needs its own website and Blog.

Even though your app will be downloaded on Google Playstore or App store, it is still important to create a website and a blog for the app. You can can get good designs on Themeforest or any bootstrap marketplace.

Also, ensure that your website and blog are optimized with keywords relevant to your app. According to Ogechi (another Nigerian app developer), the secret to organic app downloads is having a prelaunch strategy driven by content marketing. He noted that his blog is responsible for 150 – 200 downloads per day on Playstore.

7. Use Facebook Ads and Google Adwords to your advantage.

You can choose to drive app installs using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google or YouTube. Of all five, Facebook appears to be most cost effective, followed by Google Adwords and Instagram. From my personal experiments, I used Facebook Ads to drive traffic to a client’s promotion for less than a penny.

With Facebook, you can specifically set your campaign objective to drive app install. You can also use Facebook Ads platform to set up your ad on Instagram which is another effective platform.


You can also use Google Adwords to drive your mobile app installs.

8. These 2 lesser known channels can drive app installs

The 2 apps are made by Nigerians. While I have not used any of them yet, I am of the opinion that they can also help you increase downloads for your app.

ShareApps.net: With ShareApps, every time someone installs your app, it pulls up their phone books and ask them to invite their friends. If they oblige, the app will send a customized message to their contacts to download your app. You can set up ShareApps to reward your users with airtime TopUp for each person they invite.

MyAds Global: This app rewards displays ads on your incoming and after-call screens. You can interact with the ad by installing an app, etc and MyAds rewards you for that with points. As a publisher, you can target users based on your chosen demographics (Age, Gender, Location etc) to download your app, or purchase your product right there on the (after-call) screen among several other actions.

9. Press and publicity stunts.

Getting the media and press behind your app will increase awareness and downloads. What is a better way to increase awareness for your app than by creating a publicity stunt around it. A good example is the Bride Price app which I wrote about here.

10. Your budget = No. of app downloads (but there is a shortcut).

If you are low on budget, you can try any of these 100 hacks:

11. Distribution is key to your downloads.

Abiola Olaniran of Gamesole is one of the few success stories of Nigerian app developers I know around. His apps have accumulated well over 10 million downloads across Windows, Playstore and MTNApp+.

One lesson I took away from one of his interviews is that it is all about distribution. According to him, he developed apps mostly for Windows OS his early days, but now he is making cross-platform apps and he is also leveraging partnerships to grow his downloads, especially with GidiRun.

The lesson is that you have to get your app into as many app stores as possible to maximize exposure.

Final thoughts…

At the end, building a great app is like baking a delicious cake. Getting huge downloads is the icing and decoration on the cake (and that is what people will see)

So, go to work with a strategy to make your app downloads a chart buster.

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